In early March, more than 600 Evangelical Protestants gathered at Jacir Palace, a five star hotel in Bethlehem. They attended a conference titled “Christ at the Checkpoint,” organized by Bethlehem Bible College, a prominent evangelical seminary located in the West Bank with supporters in Europe and North America. One of the primary goals of the conference was to promote discussion about the theology of Christian Zionism.
The conference was also held to discern what Jesus Christ would do and say if he walked through a checkpoint on a daily basis, and determine how he would deal with feelings of anger and bitterness caused by the checkpoints, said conference organizer Munther Isaac, Vice Academic Dean and Choir Director at Bethlehem Bible College. Other goals of the conference included creating a culture of peace and to buttress the Palestinian Christian Church, “a church which we all know is sadly in decline,” Isaac said.
The notion that Palestinian Christianity is in decline because of Israeli policies is a common trope offered by pro-Palestinian (and anti-Israel) partisans, but the reality is exactly the opposite. Yes, the percentage of Christians in proportion to Palestinian Muslims has declined substantially in the past few decades, but their actual numbers, it absolute terms, have increased since Israel assumed control of the West Bank in 1967. Back then, there were 40,000 Christians living in the West Bank. Today, there are approximately 60,000.
And in the late 1940s, there were approximately 60,000 Christians living in the West Bank. This population declined to 40,000 just prior to the Six Day War in 1967. This decline in absolute numbers took place under Jordanian, not Israeli, rule.
Information like this was in short supply at the conference, which placed great emphasis on the alleged dangers of Christian Zionism, Israeli misdeeds and Palestinian suffering and where comparatively little attention was paid toward Muslim hostility toward Christians, Jews and Israel. The prospect of an Islamist takeover in Egypt was downplayed, and irresponsibly so.
Not a Sabeel Conference
As one-sided as the Christ at the Checkpoint conference was, it was no Sabeel conference where Christians and Jews relentlessly assailed the legitimacy of the Jewish state in an openly hostile, ugly, and ham-handed manner. There was some of that, but for the most part, this conference was something altogether different and more sophisticated.
The underlying discussion at this conference was not about Christian Zionism per se, but about how Christians should relate to a state founded and inhabited by Jews who reject Jesus Christ as their Lord and savior. Attendees were also challenged to consider how Evangelical support for Israel serves as an obstacle to the spread of Christianity in the Muslim-dominated Middle East.
So here we are at a familiar juncture, where Christians are speaking about Jews in largely symbolic terms and portraying them as an obstacle to the faith they have rejected.
By organizing such a discussion and tilting it against Israel and the Jewish people in such a manner, the organizers of the Christ at the Checkpoint conference undermined their ability to advocate for the cause of peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.
The Impossible People
With a grammatical error, event organizers inadvertently provided a key to the conference’s theological and political message in the printed program they distributed to attendees as part of the registration packet. The program listed the title to the talk offered by Rev. Sang Bok David Kim, chairman of the World Evangelical Alliance, as “How to Deal with the Impossible People – A Biblical Perspective.” (Note: The “the” has been omitted from the title to Kim’s talk on the conference’s vimeo account, but it was included in the printed program distributed to attendees and is included in the “daily schedule” at the Christ at the Checkpoint website. This is not a nefarious change, but a grammar correction on the part of the event organizers.)
Who were “The Impossible People” alluded to in the title of Kim’s speech, given on the last day of the conference?
Audience members only had to look at the banner Kim was preaching in front of for an answer to that question. The banner, which dominated the front of the hall where the conference took place, showed a church and a cross standing in opposition to – and in judgment of – a particularly menacing section of the security barrier. Conversely, the security barrier could be seen as an obstacle to God’s purposes for the Holy Land.
The banner left no doubt who “the impossible people” were – the people responsible for the construction of the security barrier – Israeli Jews.
At Christ at the Checkpoint, “The impossible people” were not terrorists from groups like Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) who killed civilians with suicide bomb attacks during the Second Intifada.
No, the impossible people were Israeli Jews who in addition to having built the security barrier, deny Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, oppress the Palestinians and serve as obstacles to evangelization in the Middle East by relying on American support to maintain their sovereignty and their freedom.
Batarseh: Palestinians Being Crucified
This message was offered the first night of the conference when Bethlehem Mayor Victor Batarseh addressed the crowd, (which began on March 5 and lasted until March 9).
Batarseh, a Roman Catholic who was formerly a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the group responsible for the murder of Leon Kinghoffer on the Achille Laurel in 1985 and for numerous suicide bombings that killed Israelis during the Second Intifada.
During his talk, Batarseh told the audience that the Palestinians were being crucified by Israeli security measures, Bethlehem was a giant prison and that Jesus Christ, embodied by the Palestinian people, was imprisoned in the city by the security barrier.
To their credit, most, (but not all) of the other Palestinian Christians at the conference stayed far away from Batarseh’s rhetoric, which was so obviously reminiscent of the language used by Sabeel’s founder Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek during the Second Intifada. But to the best of this writer’s knowledge, they have not distanced themselves publicly from this rhetoric.
If the Palestinian Christians who organized this conference are truly intent on showing the empathy for the Jewish people that Tony Campolo challenged them to show when he spoke at the end of the conference, such distancing is absolutely necessary. The use of imagery at a gathering of Christians speaking about the Jewish state – in Bethlehem no less – by a prominent Palestinian leader such as Batarseh is simply a disgrace.
Jews, Judaism and Israel on Trial
Batarseh’s remarks were particularly troubling given one of the main question’s addressed during the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference: How should Christians understand the Jewish claim to the land and respond to the suffering the Jewish state causes to the Palestinians (Christians especially) in light of the Jewish refusal to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior?
Discussion on this subject took place on Wednesday, March 7, 2012 at a panel discussion titled “Engaging Christian Zionism.” The most troubling aspect about the discussion was that the participant spoke as if the Holocaust had never taken place, or if it had, Christian teachings about the Jewish people played no role whatsoever in contributing to the catastrophe.
There were two main poles to the discussion. On one side, discussants Gary Burge and Manfred Kohl offered up a predictably supersessionist theology that depicted God’s promises to the Jewish people as a dead letter that should not be affirmed by Christians who adhere to a New Testament faith.
On the other side of the discussion, Wayne Hilsden, a pastor of a messianic congregation in Jerusalem, argued that God’s promises to the Jewish people are still in force and that the Jewish people will ultimately be brought into the fold of Christianity and until then, still have a role to play in God’s purposes for humanity.
Ostensibly, Hilsden exhibited more sympathy for the Jewish people, but even this sympathy was attenuated by his agreement with Burge and Kohl on one crucial point: All three of these discussants viewed the Jewish people through the lens of having rejected Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. And it is this rejection that is decisive in how these three speakers view Judaism, the Jewish people and their claim to the land. Ostensibly, the discussion was supposed to be about Christian Zionism, but inside this was another discussion about Christ-rejecting Jews and their claim to the land.
Reenacting an Old Debate
Gary Burge, a New Testament professor at Wheaton College in Illinois started the discussion in a particularly ugly manner when he stated at the outset of his talk that “some of the most bizarre conversations” he has ever had have been in the Old City of Jerusalem. Burge then recounts no less than four conversations he had with Orthodox Jews in the Old City.
In these encounters, Burge worked assiduously to achieve an upper hand, a position of superiority of over the Jews with whom he spoke. The Jews he spoke with came across as looking stupid, menacing or both.
Burge first described meeting a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews intent on rebuilding the Temple on top of the Temple Mount after moving the Dome of the Rock Mosque someplace else. “That sounded like a very interesting project for a weekend,” he said.
The next conversation he described was with an “old eccentric Rabbi” who told Burge “in whispered sentences that he believed he knew where the lost treasures of Herod’s Temple were hidden.” He had an Indiana Jones look in his eyes, Burge reported, but his clothes didn’t fit the part.
“His hat was all wrong,” Burge said.
Then Burge described an argument he had with “five Yeshiva Boys” on the plaza near the Western Wall. “So I had my camera in my hand and they thought it was a good moment to teach me a lesson about why you shouldn’t take photos on the Sabbath,” Burge said. He continued:
This sounded like fun, so after their sermon, I asked them what is really wrong theologically with using a camera on Sabbath. Honestly, debating details on the Sabbath, sounded very biblical, especially 100 yards from the Temple. So they argued that pushing the button on the shutter release was doing work. I told them climbing all those stairs all over Jerusalem was more work and on it went for half and hour.This could have been a scene right out of the Gospel. I said I was celebrating the beauty of God’s creation by taking a picture, they said I was breaking the law. I was having a great time.
So here we have Burge casting aspersions on Jewish millennial hopes for the construction of a new Temple on the Temple mount (which, to be fair, is a frightening scenario for many Jews and non-Jews, given the likely response from Muslim extremists), making fun of an “old eccentric rabbi” for hoping to find ancient treasure, and then disputing with a group of “yeshiva boys” over Jewish Sabbath laws – at the Western Wall no less. Like Burge said, this was straight out of the New Testament, with Burge standing in opposition to ossified and legalistic religious practices.
Burge’s public rehearsal of the age-old conflict between the church and synagogue continued with his description of the “strangest conversation” he ever had, which took place in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.
I happened to run into a few young men who were Jewish settlers there and I heard them speaking in English and they were using a New York accent. This when a naïve tourist posture works extremely well as a strategy for conversation. So I asked them if I was lost. I said I thought the Jewish Quarter was sort of to the south and I didn’t understand whey they were there.Now these young men were in their twenties and they were extremely helpful. They explained to me that the Jewish Quarter was everywhere in the Old City. Why? Because God had given the entire city of Jerusalem to them.But wait, I said, I thought the city was in four quarters and everybody was sharing it nicely.Well, they said, this is a temporary arrangement, but we are working to fix it.So I said, OK, how do you know that the Christian buildings around you actually belong to you. Easy they said, God gave this land to Abraham and we are his descendents. We inherit everything.These young men were indeed from New York City. And they believe that a DNA connection to a 4,000 year-old man endorsed their property claims. They were now entitled.
Burge then goes onto to unpack the claim of “these boys” to the land by virtue of being descendents of Abraham. The upshot is that Christians should not support Jews who lay claim to the land by virtue of being descendents of Abraham because this claim is attenuated – if not altogether abrogated – by the teachings of Jesus and the writings of Paul as documented in the New Testament. The New Testament, Burge said, teaches that the privileges accorded to Abraham and are now contingent on being followers of Jesus. “Faith in Christ makes you a child of Abraham,” Burge said.
Toward the end of his talk, Burge described a fantasy of returning to the Old City of Jerusalem and “seeing those boys again from New York” who he invokes as a symbol of dangerous claims of religious privilege.
I think I’d ask them something like this: “Is it possible for you guys to be a descendent of Abraham and not be his son?” Wow, would that be fun! But it is precisely the line of reasoning I hear from the rabbis of the first century, John the Baptist, Jesus and Paul.
At one point in his talk, Burge’s fantasy continues with him telling the boys from New York that he too was a son of Abraham, despite his “mostly Swedish” background.
I know that would start a really cool little debate. Better than my camera on Sabbath escapade. They’d say “What are you crazy? Abraham was a Swede?” and I’d say, no no, no, no, you guys, don’t get it. It’s not about DNA. Abraham was the father of many nations and then we’d be living in John chapter eight [which describes Jesus’ confrontation with the scribes and Pharisees] right on a Jerusalem street.How cool is that? But why not throw caution to the wind. Just before I escape to the airport, I would tell them Jesus was the premier son of Abraham. I’d tell them my Palestinian Christian friends here are also Abraham’s children and if privileges are being connected to Abraham, I’ll tell you what: Maybe they [the Palestinian Christians] ought to be in your equation.
Burge’s fantasy ends with Burge telling the boys that according to Paul, Abraham was the father of the both the circumcised and the uncircumcised.
And if I did [this], I’m sure our little debate would really get going. And it would become stranger and stranger and more and more stressful than anything about cameras because it would strike at the heart of so much grief in this part of the world.
Burge’s fantasy confrontation with these New York Jews in the Old City of Jerusalem reveals a contradiction in his message. At one point during his talk, Burge reported that inside of Israel, “there has been a long and complicated discussion about Jewish identity. Is it ethnicity” Is it culture? Is it belief? This is not my conversation.” He continued:
As Christians we are part of a different conversation. We need to begin thinking like Christians about matters of faith and privilege and we need to ask tough questions when Western Christians come to Israel-Palestine and make bold pronouncements about who owns Jerusalem and who inherits the promise of Abraham.
If Burge’s statement is true, and that Jewish-self understanding is none of his business and that his real disagreement is with Christian Zionists, then why did he spend so much time recounting his disputations with Jews in his talk? (You can watch the video yourself, here.)
And if Burge has no interest in taking part in the Jewish discussion over Jewish identity, then why does he keep insisting that Jews interpret their own scriptures and experience in light of Christian writings and theology?
Is there no way for Burge to address Christian Zionism as a theology without reenacting the age-old fight between the church and synagogue in such an ugly manner as he did during his speech?
And does Burge really think that reenacting this conflict will promote the cause of peace between Jews and Muslims in the Holy Land?
And does he really think that he can promote the cause of peace by focusing so much on Judaism’s beliefs while ignoring the impact Muslim theology and Islamist ideology plays in fomenting the conflict?
The fact is, Burge is hugely offended with how Jews understand themselves because in his view it “strikes at the heart of so much grief” in the Holy Land.
Burge’s obsession with Jewish self-understanding and Judaism’s land claims raises an obvious question. If Judaism’s claim to a relatively small portion of land in the Middle East is bad and dangerous, then what about Islam’s territorial claims, which according to one popular scholar, encompass the entire planet?
Burge’s persistent silence on this Islam’s territorial claims, coupled with his tendency to assail Judaism’s territorial component, is a legitimate and ongoing cause for suspicion. It is emblematic of a troubling and undeniable double standard that afflicts a lot of Christian commentary about the Arab-Israeli conflict.
It was simply not on the agenda at Christ at the Checkpoint.
Dr. Manfred Kohl, another speaker on the subject of Christian Zionism was much less confrontational than in his speech, but he made it perfectly clear that Christian support or acknowledgment of Judaism’s territorial claims were alien to the faith.
“Jesus himself never focused on the land in his prayers or blessings. He showed no interest in Israel as a kingdom,” said Kohl, adding a few moments later “For us today, to insist on holding onto some parts of the old covenant means not to recognize Christ in his totality.”
For Kohl, the destruction of the Second Temple 70 CE demonstrated that God’s territorial promises to the Jewish people were now defunct and that these promises had been universalized and handed over to Christianity.
“There is no provision for holding onto the Kingdom of Israel with its defined ancestral borders,” Kohl said. “Jesus prediction of the destruction of the Temple as well as his own death came true, but only Jesus was raised up, not the Temple.”
This argument has an old history. In his book The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue: A Study in the Origins of Antisemitism, (Atheneum, 1974), James Parks reports:
Although Judaism rallied with extraordinary speed from the blow struck at the Jewish religion by the destruction of the Temple and all of the ceremonial of which it was the centre, and though the Jews in the diaspora had long been accustomed to centre their religion around the synagogue, yet it cannot but have left a sense of tragedy and humiliation upon the generation which witnessed it. It was a point which they would have liked to pass over in silence, until time had healed the scars. But the Christians never allowed them to forget it. In all the literature of the period there is only one reference in which the destruction of the Temple is not cast up at them as a gibe, as a proof that their glory had departed. (Page 82).
What did Kohl think he was accomplishing offering an argument such as this at a conference devoted to peacemaking? Did he not know what he was doing?
Rev. Wayne Hilsden, a pastor of a congregation of Jewish believers of Jesus in Jerusalem, offered a response to the supersessionism evident in Burge and Kohl’s talks. In Hilsden’s view, God still loves the Jewish people. “No matter how far away the Jewish people have wandered away and have been exile, profaned his Holy name, His love is persistent,” Hilsden said.
Hilsden further countered Burge and Kohl’s supersessionism by declaring that Jews still have a role to play in God’s plan for humanity’s salvation after Jesus Christ. “The picture of Israel and the Jewish people can look pretty messy right now, as we’re looking at the present state of this nation, but the picture’s not complete yet.”
Jews, Hilsden said the Jewish people serve as a demonstration of God’s love and a warning to Christians as to what happens when people do not live up to God’s expectations. “Israel’s serial unfaithfulness to their God and Savior results in harsh judgment.” This judgment, Hilsden stated, was not to bring about Israel’s wholesale destruction, but for its restoration. “The Jewish people serve as a warning, Hilsden said, “as to what can happen when you commit spiritual adultery.”
During the one of the question and answer periods, Hilsden depicted the modern state of Israel as part of God’s plan in transforming Jews into followers of Christ by fulfilling the prophecy of Ezekiel 36:31 that describes how Jews living in the Land of Israel will remember their evil ways and “loathe” themselves for their “iniquities and abominable deeds.” He made this statement after he was asked how he could justify the suffering endured by the Palestinians at the hands of the state of Israel by appealing to scripture. Hilsden said he does not justify Israeli wrong-doing.
Neverthless, he said, “Some sinful, less-than-ideal entity has to be in the land for this to be fulfilled. There has to be a loathing of themselves in the land, so if it’s not this state, there’s another terrible state and I would hate to think of a worse one.”
Such a statement is hugely troubling, because it suggests that Jewish suffering plays a positive role in God’s purposes for history. This may be part of Jewish theology and self-understanding, but for Christians to utter a statement after the Holocaust is another thing altogether. Ironically, it also suggests that Palestinians must also suffer at the hand of a sinful Jewish state so that Israeli Jews will loathe their sin and then turn to Christ.
Hilsden stated that Israeli Jews “are coming to their own conclusions about the fact that they don’t have their own answers” and that
Zionism without God is a system that is unraveling day by day and they are becoming disillusioned with the dream and they will loathe themselves for these things. So … somehow in God’s prophetic plan, he’s bringing Israel to its knees to recognize its sin and iniquity in the land. But ultimately, God will save them, not because of their own goodness but because of his covenant love for them.
The belief that Jews who do not accept Jesus are disobedient and reprobate (or in Hilsden’s words, engaging in “spiritual adultery”) and as a result, must suffer as part of God’s plan, casts a troublesome shadow on any Christian discussion about the modern state of Israel. Hilsden’s hermeneutic offers the apparent benefit of placing Jews back into household of salvation, but it comes with a grave price – a reaffirmation of the historical Christian emphasis on Jewish sin and rejection of Christ and the obduracy this represents.
Can Christians Deal With Jews and Their State Fairly?
It was exactly this emphasis on Jewish obduracy that made it difficult, if not impossible, for Christians in Germany to oppose Nazi anti-Semitism even as they confronted the totalitarian aspects of Nazism as an ideology. This was discussed at length by Richard Rubenstein and John K. Roth in their book Approaches to Auschwitz: The Holocaust and its Legacy (Westminster John Knox Press, 2003).
The Barmen Declaration, a rare symbol of Christian opposition to Nazi ideology issued by Christians in Germany in the early 1930s, made no reference whatsoever to Nazism’s hostility toward Jews, suggesting that responsible Christians could let this hostility pass unmentioned.
Karl Barth, the great Protestant theologian who helped write the Barmen Declaration admitted after World War II that the declaration should have included a reference to Nazi anti-Semitism and that he should have fought more forcefully for it, but that it was unlikely his fellow Christians, who were allied with him in his fight against Nazism, would have approved such a statement. (Approaches, page 259). The reason? They, like Barth himself – and Dietrich Bonhoeffer – embraced the notion that Jewish suffering was a punishment for their refusal to accept Jesus as their lord and savior.
Yes, Barth was opposed to Nazism as a totalitarian ideology and yes, he was offended by Nazism’s hostility toward Jews – he himself reminded his parishioners that Jesus was a Jew in a sermon in December 1933 (Approaches, page 260) – but his assessment of Jews as a reprobate people had a profound and troubling impact on his response to the Holocaust. Rubenstein and Roth report that Barth’s “passionate opposition to National Socialism and his profound anti-Judaism were of a piece. He believed with unshakeable faith that “Christ is Lord.” They continue:
This meant that no human being could claim his unconditional loyalty and obedience, as Hitler demanded. Nevertheless, Barth held that Jews were not only in error, but also sinfully in error for their inability to believe Christ as Lord. As noted, after the Holocaust, many influential Protestant and Catholic religious thinkers were able to affirm their faith in Christ as Lord without regarding Jews as sinners for their inability to believe, but such insights had to wait another generation. In 1942 Barth reproved a stricken Jewish community for failing to understand the Holocaust as divine punishment for its willful refusal to believe in the lordship of Christ. “There is no doubt,” he wrote, “that Israel hears; no less than ever, can it shelter behind the pretext of ignorance and inability to understand. But Israel hears—and does not believe.” In 1949, four years after Nazi Germany’s surrender, Barth continued to suggest that the evil that came to the Jewish people was “a result of their unfaithfulness,” and that the Jew “pays for the fact that he is the elect of God,” and that the Jewish people are “no more than the shadow of a nation, the reluctant witnesses of the Son of God and the Son of Man.”Although he courageously opposed Hitler and helped to rescue its victims, Barth was part of the problem, not the solution. Beliefs about the Holocaust as divine punishment were to be found even among German religious leaders who opposed Hitler most decisively. This situation indicates that within Germany Christian accommodation was no weird, isolated aberration. It was ultimately rooted in beliefs about covenant and which community was truly chosen by God. Those beliefs had made Jews vulnerable for centuries. (Approaches, page 261).
This raises a troubling question. Does the belief that Jews are an obdurate people whose most salient characteristic is their rejection of Jesus Christ – a belief that was central to the discussion about Christian Zionism – help explain why so many so-called Christian peacemakers have had such a difficult time speaking about Muslim anti-Semitism?
Islamism (and Islam) Given a Pass at the Checkpoint
This question takes on a particularly urgency because at the Christ at the Checkpoint conference, there was a fundamental refusal to seriously address the role Muslim theology and Islamist ideology play in fomenting hostility toward Jews and Israel in the Middle East. This is ironic given the emphasis on problems blamed on Christian Zionism by numerous commentators at the conference.
Just as Christianity has given off a pretty persistent signal of enmity for the Jewish people, Islam has given off a pretty persistent signal of dominance and supremacy over other religions in the 14 centuries since its founding. This message is currently played itself out through the application of shariah throughout the Middle East.
The impact of this message can be testified to by religious and ethnic minorities who are suffering terrible acts of violence at the hands of Muslim extremists who are acting out the suicidal fantasies put forth by Islamist commentators such as Hassan Al Banna and Sayyd Qutb in the last century.
Qutb for example, depicted Jews at the center of an effort to seduce Muslims away from the tenets of their faith and from their pursuit of the “concrete ideal of Islamic society,” reports Olivier Carré in his 2003 book, Mysticism and Politics: A Critical Reading of Fi Zilal al-Qur’an by Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966) published in the Netherlands by Koniklijke Brill. In this text, an analysis of Qutb’s influential book, In the Shade of the Koran, Carré reports that in Qutb’s word view, there is no middle ground between believing authentic Muslims and the “vast gathering of human demons, crusaders, Zionists, pagans, communists, who differ among themselves, but join together against Islam in order to crush the vanguards of the movements for Islamic rebirth […] throughout the earth.” (Pages 157-158).
Clearly, Islamist ideology plays a significant role in the continuation of the Arab-Israeli conflict and have an affect on Muslim-Jewish (and Muslim-Christian) relations throughout the Middle East (and the rest of the world), but sadly enough, Colin Chapman, the resident expert on Islam for the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference gave very light treatment to this reality. For Chapman, the rise of Islamism in the Middle East was largely the consequence of Western Imperialism.
Chapman, like many other apologists for Islam and Islamism in the West, fails to address an important reality: Muslims themselves are responsible for the problem of anti-Semitism in their faith – just as Christians are culpable for their historical anti-Semitism of their faith.
Even Tony Campolo, who spoke movingly about Israeli fears in the face of the Arab spring on the last day of the conference, failed to acknowledge the theological and ideological roots of anti-Semitism. He said Israeli Jews wonder if the people of Egypt, Jordan and Syria will, “because of what they have seen over the year [be] anxious to destroy the state of Israel.” Muslim anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism has roots that go much deeper than 1948 and cannot be solely rooted in Israeli behavior. In short, Jews are not supposed to be sovereign or free under the Islamic nomos, or sense of order. They are supposed to be subservient people of the book. This belief plays a huge role in fomenting violence against Jews and Israel.
Until Christians address this reality, they will fail as peacemakers.
Islamism in Egypt
One commentator who might have been able to shed more light on this reality was Rev. Samih Mouris, an evangelical pastor in Egypt who addressed the audience through a video interview recorded with Munther Isaac a few months before the conference. Mouris was clearly speaking prior to the Oct. 9, 2011 pogrom that resulted in the deaths of more than a score of Christians in Cairo.
During the interview, Munther asked Mouris to respond to Western concerns about Islam, which he characterized as “Islamophobia.” Mouris said the problem is violence and extremism and people who use religion for political purposes. Secularists initiated the Arab Spring in Egypt, Mouris said.
“The people of Egypt, the Muslims who want the Islamic trends and Islamic rule, are not the majority,” he said. “Most Muslims believe in the separation of religion and state.”
Events that have taken place in the months since Mouris was interviewed indicate otherwise. Not only have Islamists won control of the Egyptian Parliament in recent elections, they enjoy a majority in a panel charged with rewriting the country’s constitution and the Muslim Brotherhood is apparently breaking a promise to not submit a candidate for an upcoming presidential election. Given the events that had transpired since Munther Isaac’s interview with Mouris, it seems reasonable to ask if the organizers of the Christ at the Checkpoint conference might have been better off if they discarded the video altogether.
Support for Israel Blocking Evangelization
Toward the end of the video it became apparent why it was left on the agenda. It included a capstone to the conference’s depiction of th e Jewish state as a stumbling block. After Mouris warned that if Egypt is ruled by extremists, “the people will starve,” Isaac then asked him about the Israel/Palestine conflict. Mouris said that rage caused by the support for Israel in its “unjust claims” by what Arabs regard as Christian countries undermines the abilities of Evangelical Christians to carry the Gospel in the region. Western support for Israel, Mouris stated, “is a serious stumbling block before the Gospel in Arab society.”
Christian Zionism, Mouris said, “greatly affects negatively the Evangelical Church in the Arab world, especially in Egypt where there is a vast number of Christians.”
With this statement, Mouris encapsulated an ominous another underlying message of the conference: Evangelical Christians in the United States and Europe must choose between spreading the Gospel in the Muslim Middle East or supporting the Jewish state against its enemies in the region. This choice was underscored when, Rev. Robert Roberts, a pastor from Texas who has worked with Muslims in a number of places including Afghanistan, promised to continue standing with the Jews despite his desire to connect with Muslims as an evangelist.
Despite this assurance, we are once again at a familiar juncture: Christians are speaking about Jewish people and their institutions, in this case, their homeland, as an obstacle to God’s purposes for humanity.